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The alleged seditious article that was published in the Nai Lalakai newspaper was not seditious and there was no intention to cause ill will and hostility between different classes of the Fijian population.
This point was highlighted systematically by all four defence counsels Tuesday during their closing addresses to the three assessors in the sedition trial against three senior officials of The Fiji Times, a letter writer and The Fiji Times Ltd.
Nai Lalakai letter writer Josaia Waqabaca’s lawyer Aman Ravindra-Singh, Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula’s lawyer Devanesh Sharma, The Fiji Times lawyer Wylie Clarke and the counsel for The Fiji Times publisher Hank Arts and editor-in-chief Fred Wesley, Queens Counsel Marc Corlett stated that the evidence provided by the State failed to prove that the article was seditious or that there was any seditious intention.
Ravindra-Singh said his client was a regular contributor to the Nai Lalakai newspaper and that he was exercising his right of freedom of expression.
He stated that the alleged seditious letter was delivered first to the Attorney-General before it was published in the Nai Lalakai newspaper on April 27, 2016.
He said the original recipient of the letter who was the Attorney-General had no issues of the content of the letter because he did not respond or lodge any complaint with relevant authorities.
Ravindra-Singh said no complaint was lodged by any religious group or even the Muslims.
He said two months after the letter was published, the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs permanent secretary, Naipote Katonitabua, filed a complaint regarding the content of the article.
He also stated the letter did not cause ill will or hostility because no ordinary Fijian citizen complained that his faith was attacked after the alleged seditious article was published.
Nai Lalakai editor Anare Ravula’s lawyer Devanesh Sharma told the assessors that the letter could be interpreted into several meanings.
Sharma said the author of the letter had written on matters that were of public interest, matters that involved iTaukei who were the readers of the Nai Lalakai.
He stated that Richard Naidu, a partner in the law firm of Munro Leys in his evidence clearly articulated the significance of editorial independence which was practised within The Fiji Times Ltd.
He said there was no evidence to prove that Arts or Wesley had any knowledge of the letter, read or edited it or even authorised it to be published.
Sharma said a lot of presumptions and opinion was drawn in this case but no evidence was presented.
Sharma said a lot of discussions were mostly centred on the general duties of the accused persons, he said in the process the State failed to elaborate on this whether his client was present on the day the alleged seditious article was published.
Sharma said the police were lazy when they conducted their investigations because the charge was serious instead of setting out whose duties was to do what, they basically threw it into court to ascertain who was responsible for publishing the letter.
Sharma said the letter did not have any impact or an effect because nobody lodged any complaint except the permanent secretary.
In his conclusion, Sharma said his client could only be convicted if Mr Arts was found guilty because the charges against his client was he aided and abetted Arts to publish the alleged seditious article and if Arts did not publish it, then the charge against his client failed.
Queens Counsel Marc Corlett in his opening address stressed that to make a man liable to imprisonment for an offence which he does not know that he has committed and which he is unable to prevent is repugnant to the ordinary man’s conception of justice and brought the law into contempt.
Corlett said this while delivering his closing submissions at the High Court in Suva.
Corlett stated that a man cannot be guilty of a crime if he had not done anything wrong; a man cannot be guilty unless he intends to commit a crime, a man cannot be guilty if he knows nothing of the crime until after it is committed.
Corlett, asked three questions which were relevant to his clients — the first being, does Hank Arts review the letters that are sent to the Nai Lalakai editor and decide which ones get printed?
If Hank Arts does not decide which letters to the Nai Lalakai editor would be published, who does?
If the editor of the Nai Lalakai is the one who decides which letters would be published, does he show these letters to the editor-in-chief Wesley before they are published?
He said all the evidence that was presented by him during the trial depicted that neither Mr Arts nor Wesley knew anything about the alleged seditious letter until they were arrested.
The company’s lawyer Wylie Clarke said the alleged seditious article was not a threat on religious harmony.
He said it was about a man who was expressing his views about what Government was doing and he had suggested ways on how to deal with his concerns.
Clarke said defence witness Paul Geraghty, an expert in the iTaukei language, provided a different and more accurate translation and was unable to see the interpretation argued for by the State on the effect of the letter.
Clarke said there was no evidence that the board, Arts or Wesley intended or authorised the alleged seditious letter to be published.
Assistant DPP Lee Burney stated that the charge was clear and that the State had stated that they were relying on the entire article to prove its case.
Burney said the prosecution in its evidence had proven that each of the accused persons played a part in this case.
Burney said it was also evident that the defence wanted to shift all the blame to Ravula.
He stated that the assessors may feel rather sad for Ravula but had to accept that he also shared part of the blame but he was not solely responsible for it.
High Court judge Justice Thushara Rajasinghe will sum up the case to the three assessors on Friday.
SOURCE: FIJI TIMES/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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